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Did Facebook Trigger an Asthma Attack?

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Updated: 6/13/2013 8:44 pm

Nov. 18, 2010 -- Can Facebook actually trigger asthma attacks? A case study out of Italy suggests it’s possible.

Reporting in the Nov. 20 issue of The Lancet, researchers led by Gennaro D’Amato, MD, of High Specialty Hospital A Cardarelli in Naples, Italy, discussed symptoms experienced by an 18-year-old man.

The man became depressed after his girlfriend broke up with him and “unfriended” him from Facebook. The man created a new nickname for himself, befriended his ex-girlfriend on Facebook, and began developing shortness of breath every time he visited her Facebook page. The patient’s medical history, a physical examination, and other environmental and infectious factors were ruled out as being linked to the asthma attacks.

“The [man’s] mother was advised to ask him to measure the peak expiratory flow before and after internet login and, indeed, ‘post-Facebook’ values were reduced, with a variability of more than 20%,” the researchers write. “In collaboration with a psychiatrist, the patient resigned not to login to Facebook any longer and the asthma attacks stopped.”

D’Amato and his team suggest that the man’s hyperventilation is related to psychosocial stress brought on by the time he spent on Facebook. “This case indicates that Facebook, and social networks in general, could be a new source of psychological stress, representing a triggering factor for exacerbations in depressed asthmatic individuals,” the researchers write. “Considering the high prevalence of asthma, especially among young people, we suggest that this type of trigger be considered in the assessment of asthma exacerbations.”

Facebook is one of the most popular web sites worldwide with more than 500 million active users. In the U.S., more than 7% of adults have asthma, one of the most common respiratory problems in the U.S. and around the world.

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